George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Brigadier General John Lacey, Jr., 12 April 1778

From Brigadier General John Lacey, Jr.

Doyls-Town [Pa.] April 12th 1778


I received your Excellencys favour of yesterdays date last evening. as several of the Prisoners who have been tryed live in the Vicinity of Philada, and from their general Character, I have not the least hope or incouragement to believe they will refrain from their evil ways, and I cannot learn their friends or connections are more reputable than themselves, unless they are with the Enemy, I will remit their Corporal punishment and send them to Lancaster to Labour.1

Inclosed is the tryal of one John Burk an Inhabitant of Smithfield Philada County, who the Court have Condemned to be hanged, this man from every thing I can learn has been a very great Villain, he Joined the Enemy just after they came to the City, and has been with them ever since, has frequently been out with their parties, I am told he is universally hated by the Inhabitants where he used to live, I cannot learn he has any friends of reputation nor even one Man that speaks a good word of him; I sent my Horse all through his Neighbourhood to let his Friends, or any other Person who knew any thing of him, know that his Tryal was coming on and that if they had anything to offer in his favour they were to come and make it known to the Court, but no person came near him to offer the least thing in his favour. I also sent word lower down the Country for some evidences against him, who were on their way when a party of the Enemy came out took one of my Horsemen and detered the Evidences from coming up. I am fully persuaded from every information and intelligence I can learn of the Prisoners former Character, and his present traitorous Conduct, that he is a very proper person to make an example of. I therefore Submit him to your Excellencys more judicious Judgment.2 And remain with respect your Excellencys Most Obedient Hble Servant

John Lacey Jur B.G.

ALS, DLC:GW; ADfS, NHi: Miscellaneous Manuscripts.

1On 13 April, Lacey wrote Pennsylvania supreme executive council president Thomas Wharton, Jr.: “Inclosed is a list of some prisoners, their crimes and the judgment of the Court, which is approved of in part by His Excellency General Washington, &c., in a letter to me, dated April the 11th, 1778, a coppy of which I also inclose in this letter. The Prisoners I send you are Notorious offenders, and have made a grate practice of going to market, as well as being guilty of other traitourous acts. I send them to you to do with as you and Council may direct, but hope they may be kept close to some Labourious Business, during the Campaign, for you may rely on their going directly to the Enemy if they have their Liberty” (Pa. Archives description begins Samuel Hazard et al., eds. Pennsylvania Archives. 9 ser., 138 vols. Philadelphia and Harrisburg, 1852–1949. description ends , 1st ser., 6:414). On 25 April the council considered “The case of divers persons sent by Genl Lacey to this place as dangerous persons, against whom it had been made appear, that they have supplied Provisions to the Enemy or to persons within the City, now in possession of the Enemy & that they had been adjudged by a Court Martial to Six Months imprisonment” and “Ordered, That James McGill, Willm Morgan, John Wiggons, Jacob Crusel, James McCarty, Abram Vankirk and David Williams, be committed to the Goal of this County, until further orders from this Council” (PHarH: Records of Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Governments, 1775–1790; see also Pa. Col. Records description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 11:472).

2At the court-martial presided over by Col. Jacob Strowd of the Northampton County militia on 9 April 1778, Burk pleaded not guilty to charges of “Aiding, Assisting, Piloting and giving Inteligence to the Enemy.” Capt. Matthew Henderson of the 9th Pennsylvania Regiment stated “that the Prisoner John Burk Confessed to him the next day after he was apprehended that he had been a Pilot twice to the British Army when out a Forraging,” and the court considered the similar testimony of four other men before finding Burk guilty and unanimously sentencing him to death by hanging (DLC:GW). Burk, however, soon escaped (see Lacey to GW, 20 April). On 30 Oct. a proclamation of Pennsylvania’s supreme executive council listed him among a large number of men who were accused of having joined the enemy and who were ordered to appear for trial or “be attained of High Treason . . . & undergo all such forfeitures as persons attainted of High Treason ought to do” (PHarH: Records of Pennsylvania’s Revolutionary Governments, 1775–1790; see also Pa. Col. Records description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 11:610–12). Burk’s thirty acres in Moreland Manor later were confiscated and offered for sale (Pennsylvania Gazette [Philadelphia], 17 May 1780).

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